The Orlando Museum of Art Has Fired Its Director After the FBI Raided a Show of Allegedly Fake Basquiats

The museum is also investigating a threatening correspondence between the former director and an academic.

The Orlando Museum of Art. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg. Courtesy of Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The Orlando Museum of Art fired director and CEO Aaron De Groft yesterday after the F.B.I. seized the contents of “Heroes and Monsters,” an exhibition of 25 works controversially attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

The authorities’ raid took place on Friday, with the 41-page affidavit for the search warrant presented to the museum citing the works’ dubious provenance after an investigation revealed “false information relating to the alleged prior ownership of the paintings.” The works had supposedly been recovered from a storage unit in 2012.

The decision to remove De Groft was made during a meeting of board members on Tuesday morning, according to the New York Times, which cited the anonymous accounts of museum employees. Artnet News has reached out to De Groft for further comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.

Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the board, issued a statement confirming the news. She also said that the board “is extremely concerned about several issues with regard to the ‘Heroes and Monsters’ exhibition, including the recent revelation of an inappropriate email correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition. We have launched an official process to address these matters, as they are inconsistent with the values of this institution, our business standards, and our standards of conduct.”

The email exchange Brumback referred to has been quoted in part by the New York Times, which reported that one of the authenticating experts mentioned in the affidavit was Jordana Moore Saggese, a professor of art at the University of Maryland. 

When Saggese, who received $60,000 compensation for her report, asked for her name not to be associated with the Orlando exhibition, she received an intimidating response from De Groft: “You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this? Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou.”

Threatening also to reveal the payment to the University of Maryland, De Groft wrote, “do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.”

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